Off the Beat(nik)en Track

The ‘powers that be’ at WordPress HQ recommend that I take the opportunity, with this tepid tippie-toe into blogging, to tell everyone why I’m doing it and what I’m all about.

I think the best way to explain that is to tell you about how and why I started listening to jazz.

I’m not a huge jazz afficionado, and it took me a long time to work out how to fit my brain into a type of music so entirely different from what I usually like. That’s the thing about jazz; it’s the ultimate expression of avant-garde music, and yet people who profess to love the experimental stylings of, say, Animal Collective or Pere Ubu just can’t wrap their psyche around the beautiful, and exponentially more interesting, music of Charles Mingus or Miles Davis.

Right from school, when I started to get itchy feet about how many more variations of rock song formation I could realistically get excited about, I had always tried to ‘get into’ jazz. I’m certain a huge part of that was to be the guy who liked jazz in sixth form. I never was. Instead, I discovered the rich and rewarding world of hip-hop, which slaked my thirst for something without strings for a good while.

At university, a very, very dear friend of mine who lived directly above me was an avid jazz nerd fan, and I gave my utmost to listen to his collection and enjoy it. But it didn’t happen. Records I can’t listen to enough now, particularly Miles Davis’ ‘In a Silent Way’, just didn’t grab me at all. I did, however, (if he’s reading this) love waking up in the morning to jazz coming out of his open window. That’s not sarcastic, it was a genuinely nice way to wake up. That, however, was the extent of my jazz enjoyment between 2006 and 2012.

So what happened in 2012 to make me, not only give it a third (and final) try, but to name a blog after it? Was it that I had ‘grown up’? I initially thought that must be the answer, but then said it in my head again and realised that that is an absolutely ridiculous thing to say. Musical tastes are arguably at their most sophisticated between 18-30, where the thrill of constant discovery is still there and you don’t feel too old and sad to try anything new. So it wasn’t that.

What it was, I realised, was letting go of past prejudices. I realise using the word ‘prejudice’ around jazz music is risky territory, so let me qualify that statement immediately. Jazz is an entirely different form of music from what most music lovers are used to – even fairly serious ones. The problem I faced before was an expectation that any ‘proper’ form of music would have a grounding in rock music of some form. Consciously or not, I was always waiting for Thelonious Monk to kick his piano to splinters and pick up a Les Paul. Jazz has to be understood in a very different way. Like I said, I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination – merely an interested bystander – so I won’t start talking about poly-rhythms or time signatures, but I can say that jazz paints pictures with mood. Rock fans, think Dylan Carlson’s textured desert music with Earth or Sunn O)))’s, for lack of a better term, instrumental hellscapes. Vivid stories and images told without words. This, and oh my god am I going to sound like a pretentious little sod here, suddenly solidified into razor-sharp relief when I stuck some Miles on whilst reading ‘The Fountainhead’. Granted, the type of jazz and the chronology are wrong, but suddenly the mood of the text just sprung out, both parts perfectly complimenting each other, forming a single, breathtakingly unified whole.

So why have I started a blog? That’s why. I’ve always, like so many, ‘meant’ to have a blog ‘some day’ to put down in writing the things I discuss with my most illuminated of friends, or the ideas I have by myself. It just took a few tries, a few failings, and a thorough dead-heading of past convictions: the idea of putting things on the internet for all to see just doesn’t seem so repellent any more. The same is true in anything. I’m not a lifestyle guru, and I thoroughly detest feel-good blogs and instagram’d ‘good-living’ mottoes, but sometimes you miss out on something good because you’re not ready for it, or because you can’t let go of your rigid, static understanding of it, or because you mask laziness with contempt. Just keep plugging away, and maybe something will come out. And if it doesn’t, what harm did it do?

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